Thanks to NetGalley and Random House Children’s for providing an eARC in exchange for an honest review.
Release Date: January 3rd, 2017
Synopsis: Cammie O’Reilly is the warden’s daughter, living in an apartment above the entrance to the Hancock County Prison. But she’s also living in a prison of grief and anger about the mother who died saving her from harm when she was just a baby. And prison has made her mad. This girl’s nickname is Cannonball.
In the summer of 1959, as twelve turns to thirteen, everything is in flux. Cammie’s best friend is discovering lipstick and American Bandstand. A child killer is caught and brought to her prison. And the only mother figures in her life include a flamboyant shoplifter named Boo Boo and a sullen reformed arsonist of a housekeeper. All will play a role in Cammie’s coming-of-age. But one in particular will make a stunning sacrifice to ensure that Cammie breaks free from her past.
I have been a passionate fan of Jerry Spinelli’s since I first read his Newbery Award winning YA novel Maniac Magee back in 1990. One of the many reasons why I love his writing is because he creates these incredible characters who come to life and literally leap off the page, and the ones in his newest novel are no different. Young Cammie reminded me very much of an older version of Scout from To Kill A Mockingbird. The story is told in the first person POV, so you get a true sense of who she is and what she’s going through. Her personality is prickly and she can come across as being disagreeable, but she’s a young girl struggling with never knowing her mother and the adults in her life don’t seem inclined to address it, including her loving but distant father. And balancing the more negative aspects of her personality is her compassion such as her wanting to spend time with the female prisoners because she think it will be therapeutic for them. Her relationships with the trustee/housekeeper, Eloda, Boo Boo, a female prisoner she’s become close with, and her best friend Reggie, though are the three that really play a large part in Cammie’s coming-of-age. The affectionate feelings shared by Cammie and Boo Boo, an ebullient black woman is especially touching. I have to be honest and say I initially cringed at the portrayal of Boo Boo as an uneducated, jolly black woman, but her character is skillfully woven into something much deeper by Spinelli. There was one passage in particular that involved Cammie doing something for Boo Boo in the outside world simply so the prisoner could live vicariously through her. It was so beautifully detailed it had me tearing up. Eloda was a bit more problematic for me. Cammie becomes determined to turn her into a mother figure, which despite numerous schemes, doesn’t exactly go well. Eloda determinedly keeps Cammie at a distance, and while I understand what Spinelli was doing, I was never really able to connect with her. And then there’s Reggie who is twelve going on seventeen, is fame obsessed (even appearing on American Bandstand) and is the complete opposite of the tomboyish Cammie. The two clash a few times, especially over Cammie’s feelings toward Eloda, and Reggie’s determination to get an autograph from the prison’s newest resident, an accused child killer, yet through it all their friendship stays strong. The setting in Spinelli’s hometown of Two Mills, PA, which was last seen in Maniac Magee, is vividly and nostalgically brought to life. This is the time of early rock and roll, and children being able to freely move around their neighborhoods. In many ways it’s a much more innocent time, yet there are some dark undercurrents. As the story takes place in 1959, racism is referred to, such as the section of Two Mills being segregated, yet this is not the prevailing theme of the book. This is mainly due to the fact that Cammie doesn’t view or judge people on the basis of their color. Overall, The Warden’s Daughter is another perfect example of why Jerry Spinelli is such a widely respected children’s and YA author. It’s perfect for classroom use and book discussion groups, as well as family reads. If you haven’t read anything by this incredibly talented and prolific author this is a great book to start with!